Years ago I had the great pleasure of going to D. G. Rossetti's studio. He was working at the small replica of his beautiful big picture now at Liverpool - Dante's dream - from the 'Vita Nuova.' In the picture Love holds his hand and gives Beatrice - dead - the kiss that Dante never gave her living. It is a poem which can be interpreted in a hundred ways, according to the mind and heart of those who look. To most people I suppose it is the glorious interpretation of a very common mental attitude - what we have not had is to us what is most precious and most beautiful and most lasting. When Rossetti ceased to be among us, and with the memory of that afternoon at his studio strong upon me, I went to his house in Cheyne Walk on the 'private view' day before the sale. I tried to buy one or two of his things, but they went at very high prices, and I got nothing; still I have always remembered what struck me as a lovely and original firescreen. I have had it copied several times, and it has given pleasure to many; so I will describe it here, that it may give pleasure to a few more. It was a little Chippendale plain mahogany screen consisting of three narrow leaves. The surface of each of these was entirely covered with the eyes of peacock feathers stuck one over the other, like the scales of a fish, each eye having the long feathers round it cut off. The other side of the panel was gilt, and I have lately found that thin oak takes the gilding best. I think in the original Rossetti screen it was gilt paper or leather. On this, long peacock feathers, split at the back to make them lie flat, were arranged in groups of three or five or six, at various heights according to fancy. They look best if the stalks nearly meet at the bottom. The panels are glazed on both sides. A square firescreen can be arranged in the same way. The effect is most satisfactory, and it has that great merit in furniture - unchangeableness. The colours, being natural, never fade; and the glass preserves the feathers from perishing.
The following is a receipt for varnishing plaster casts, given me many years ago by Sir Edward Burne-Jones:
Quarter of an ounce of gum elami, two ounces of white wax, half a pint of turpentine; add a small squeeze from an oil-paint tube of raw umber when a small quantity of the varnish has been poured into a saucer ready for use. Apply with a brush and spread quickly and evenly. This has to be done three times, with a day between each coating, and rubbed hard with a silk handkerchief between each painting. It gives casts and plaster figures the colour of old ivory and makes them useful and decorative in a way they can never be without it. The varnish on the casts lasts for ever, never becomes dirty, and the dust can be rubbed or even washed off quite easily. The best place in London for plaster casts is Brucciani's (40 Russell Street, Covent Garden). I know few decorations more satisfactory - for those who appreciate them and in certain rooms - than these casts, either from Greek friezes or (best of all) the low-relief reproductions of Donatellos almost divine work.
Dinner-tables in country houses are often a great puzzle. I know nothing so dreary as two or three people sitting down to a large empty table at breakfast or dinner, because it is not worth while to change it as a few more are coming to luncheon. When we first came here, even our family party varied so much in numbers that I thought it most desirable to find something that would suit my notions, and be easily and quickly changed from little to big and vice versā. I hunted the old furniture shops with no success, and at last decided something must be made to carry out my intentions. We got three oak tables made of exactly the same size, the top of each being forty-five inches square. It was impossible for these tables to have four legs, as when put together, which was my plan for enlarging, they would be much in the way. The top was not very thick, so had to be firmly supported. This was done by two pieces of wood placed underneath the top and resting on four wooden columns (after the manner of Chippendale's round tables) fitting into a piece of wood fourteen inches square and eight inches from the floor. From the four corners of this spread out four feet, almost but not quite to the outside edge of the table above, thus making it quite firm. This table is equally suitable for two or four people. In order to make it comfortable for six, we lay a false top upon it a few inches longer at both ends. When guests are more numerous, two of the tables are put together, and for a still greater number the third can be added. They remain perfectly firm and level if made of seasoned wood, and need no fixing or machinery to join them. The oak can be varnished or left plain, smoked or stained green, according to taste. Mr. Watson, of 11 Orchard Street London, makes them to order. For breakfast or luncheon we use the small tables apart, even when our party is complete. But at dinner this gives so much more trouble in waiting that we put them together.